Sunday, May 23, 2010

Oil, Disaster, and the Second Great Depression

During the first Great Depression, The United States endured a period of devastating drought and severe dust-storms (partly the result of over-farming) which helped to exacerbate the instability of the already troubled economy and suffering of its people. Today America has its own disaster swirling around the shores of the Gulf of Mexico as it continues its slide into another Great Depression. Meanwhile, most people continue to be oblivious to this fact, drunk on the numbing effects of irrelevant television and clueless journalism. This time the implications are worse given both the scale of the Global Depression and the extent of the oil disaster.

After recovering from the first depression, America's supplies of abundant oil helped thrust it onto the world stage as a preeminent super-power. Maintaining that position has come at the price of many "low intensity" wars and struggles around the globe, most of them today centered around the all-important-to-industrial-society and energy-dense resource - oil. In the early 1970's, the U.S. peaked in the production of oil and has been on the decline ever since. It enjoyed the prestige of being the largest producer of oil but ever since has come to rely on other sources around the world increasingly in order to fuel the labyrinth of the machine. That machine, with no real head steering it other than corruption, greed, and the thirst for ever more capital, has up to this point gone relatively unchallenged, throwing itself into the role of arrogant bully as well as gluttonous consumer.

Nature is a challenge that can not simply be "overcome".

As easy sources of oil become harder and harder to come by, it is forced to stretch itself into territories where technology is relatively untested, such as the deep waters of our oceans several thousand feet below the surface. The BP disaster looks to rival all previous oil disasters, with the exception of the Persian Gulf spill, which it could eventually surpass if the leak is not contained. According to energy awareness advocate Matthew Simmons, it simply can not be contained ever, period.

If the reality of resource depletion and corporate excess was not enough to stir the machine into tailspin, an ecological disaster and further shock to the economy will certainly not help either. To top it off, in realization of how risky off-shore drilling really is, not only to ecology but investors and insurers alike, new oil discoveries will remain expensive. Yet the temptation to continue drilling in far-removed places will be high given our thirst and our unwillingness to change the present course unless outright forced to do so.

How many oil disasters will it take to actually wake up?

There are many alternative plans right now, but most of them do not include the utter necessity to change our current lifestyle and re-orient ourselves towards self-sustaining and earth-first style communities. This means altering our social relations in more natural and free arrangements and giving up many of the material luxuries that have come to give us fleeting pleasures in our imprisoned and mentally impoverished lives. Since there are no easy replacements for oil and gas, we must plan for decentralized, local communities that do not rely on automobiles and the convenience of processed and transported foods.

Reality is a tough seabird to swallow.

I have no doubt that this will fail to happen until society actually breaks apart and we have no other choice but to pick up the pieces and make important changes at the most basic levels. Until then, our self-serving governments and corporations will continue on their destructive paths, lining their pockets while exploiting nature, until they eventually become extinct like all civilizations before them.

"Yes, the oil spewing up from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico in staggering quantities could prove one of the great ecological disasters of human history. Think of it, though, as just the prelude to the Age of Tough Oil, a time of ever increasing reliance on problematic, hard-to-reach energy sources. Make no mistake: we’re entering the danger zone. And brace yourself, the fate of the planet could be at stake." ...continued: The relentless pursuit of extreme energy

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